Rome was wonderful.  We saw so much and enjoyed so much.  

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We stood three feet from the Pope and Quinn was thrilled to touch his hand.  You can see the video of that on our Facebook page.  Quinn also wrote a story about it which you can read here.  We had to get up early to get good seats and we certainly got great seats.  The crowds were massive.  We stood right behind the barricades where Pope Francis rides on the popemobile.  It was quite the experience.  People were shouting Papi, Papi, Holy Father and other things in languages I couldn’t understand. After he rides through the massive crowds twice, he begins his address to the people.  It is spoken in many different languages.  At the end, Pope Francis gives a blessing to the crowd.

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Our Vatican tour was great.  Jaxon wrote a story about this tour and you can read it here.  It was led by a nun who described the art to us by talking about the Christian meanings of the paintings.  She was very funny and provided a heap of information.  We also climbed to the top of the Vatican Dome and the boys got to see the fabulous view from the top. (Tom and I did this climb 13 years ago and we had discussed with the boys how amazing it was.  They were very excited to be following in our footsteps (pun intended))

We visited the Capuchin crypts where monks created crypts using the bones from over 3,700 bodies. Even though the bones and skeletons are hundreds of years old, some of the bones still have skin on them.  The skeletons and bones were used to create these unbelievable designs.  Photos aren’t allowed in the crypts so we didn’t take any of our own. However, other people took photos which they shared in tripadvisor and consequently we are sharing here.

Capuchin Crypt

first image of virgin mary

We also visited the Catacomb of Santa Priscilla.  This was my favourite.  It is one of Rome's first underground Christian cemeteries and contains burials from the late 2nd century through the 4th century. It also has the world's single oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary.


Imagine a dark underground corridor full of stacked graves from floor to ceiling.  The graves we saw were all empty and stacked anywhere from 3 to 8 along the wall. The graves were dug right into the tufo (type of volcanic rock) and were small maybe 12 to 24 inches high, 16  to 24 inches deep, and 4 to 5 feet long. 

The corridors seem to go on forever and were very dark and eerie.  Tom brought a flashlight so we were able to take a peek down some of them that didn’t have any lights.  We only saw a small portion of the catacombs but it was still amazing.  Our guide told us that there are about 60 catacombs in Rome of which 6 or 7 are accessible to the public.   As many places we were disappointed to see graffiti in the catacombs.  However, upon closer examination, much of the graffiti we saw had dates from as far back as 1777.  Many were from the 1800’s and some from when WWII was taking place.  It’s interesting that even 200 hundred years ago people felt compelled to write their names along with a date on a wall.

We then visited a Basilica of San Clemente which was a Church dedicated to San Clemente.  Beneath the current 12th-century basilica lies a 4th-century basilica and beneath that, a 1st-century Mithraic secret temple, apartments, and long-lost stream! Our guide told us about the strange rituals carried out in the cult temple and the story of the priest who almost lost his mind trying to find this buried stream.  The below church and 1st century temple weren’t discovered until 1870 when a priest thought he heard running water below the existing church and started digging.  Wow, what a discovery he made!  Imagine building a church on top of another church with high vaulted ceilings and inlaid floors.  It was pretty fascinating. 

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Another very exciting tour was the Coliseum.  Nathan wrote a great story about our visit.  You can read it here.  Last time Tom and I visited Rome, tourists were not allowed to go underground or to the upper tier.  They have now opened this up and a limited number of tourists are allowed to visit these areas.  It was remarkable to be below the arena floor where the animals and gladiators waited to go above for their fight.  They have created a working model of how they believe the manual elevators worked that brought the people and animals up to the arena floor through the trap doors.  We also were able to go up to the upper tier where the view was spectacular.   


Best Things about Rome

  • Coliseum – Nathan
  • Underground Coliseum - Tom
  • Seeing the Pope - Quinn
  • Vatican - Jaxon
  • Catacombs - Kim


Worst Thing about Rome

Trevi Fountain was closed for restoration


Funniest thing in Rome

We were getting tired of the obnoxious street vendors asking us to buy their stuff.  We constantly heard “Selfie stick, Selfie stick Selfie stick” or rosarys for “one euro, one euro, one euro”.  We decided to come up with a response which was totally random and made no sense.   When the street guys would get in our faces, one of us would simply look at them and say “I like corn”.  They didn’t know how to respond or what to say wand would just walk away from us.



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Being in the heart of where the Renaissance began has been great for Quinn.  It is one of the subjects he we currently studying for school.  Nathan has been learning a lot about Renaissance as well.  The art here is amazing but nothing compares to the Statue of David.  It is hard to believe that Michelangelo created it when he was only 26 years old.  Photos can’t capture the true beauty of this masterpiece and seeing it up close exemplifies Michelangelo’s genius.

We took some day trips while we were staying in Florence.  We headed to Sienna and also went to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Sienna is a beautiful city.  We didn’t do much while we were there.  Just walked around and admired the city and streets.

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Pisa was … well … a bell tower that leans.  Kinda cool to see and I’m glad we went but not the best thing we have done.  The kids did the typical photo op of pretending to hold up the Tower.  Then, of course, they had to pretend to be pushing the tower over. 

What was really cool about Pisa was that we ran into people from our church at the Pisa train station.  Right there on the platform were Jack and Yvonne.  Completely unexpected  … What a small world!


Best Things about Florence

  • Statue of David
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa


Worst Things about Florence

  • Poor wifi in apartment
  • Getting locked out of our apartment at 10:00pm


Weirdest thing in Florence

Running into people from our church at the Pisa train station



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The main reason we decided to make a stop in Milan was because we found out that the World Expo was going taking place.  The theme was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.  Expo was great and we saw some awesome pavilions.  The boys liked Germany the best, Tom liked the Tree of Life display the best and I liked Israel the best.  The lines were huge so we weren’t able to go into some of the more popular ones.  None of us were interested in standing in line for 2-3 hours. 

While the Expo was good, the best thing about Milan was seeing the original Last Supper painting by Leonardo da Vinci.  We had to get our tickets a few months in advance as there are limitations on the number of people that are allowed in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  Only 25 people at a time and you are only given 15 minutes to view it.  It is amazing and so huge  … 15 feet by 29 feet  … It takes about an entire wall.   I wasn’t expecting that at all.  Such a contrast to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa which is only 30 inches by 21 inches.

Like many places we have visited, you are not allowed to take photos.  However, those rules seem a little in many places.  Not at the Last Supper though.  They were watching people like hawks and if they saw a person take a photo that person was asked to delete it.  The photo below is a photo of a photo that we were allowed to take.

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We also visited yet another Church.  The Milan Duomo.  It was outstanding.  The huge marble pillars, paintings and statues were unbelievable.  Click here to see the photos.

Best Things about Milan

  • Expo
  • Pizza
  • Last Supper Painting


Worst Things about Milan

  • Italian television- we were a little spoiled in Southern Spain with English TV
  • Long lines at Expo


Grossest thing in Milan

Skinned whole rabbit (head and all) in a grocery store meat department.  Gross!

© VanKosh Family 2015